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Between Issues

Between Issues1995-7-17 Cover

AFTER WATCHING CNBC’s excerpts of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan’s latest semiannual appearance on Capitol Hill, George Brockway phoned us. “I have some bad news,” said our veteran economics columnist cheerfully. “Greenspan may be reading THE NEW LEADER.” But his actual purpose was to alert us that he was pursuing the entire videotaped hearing. If he found his eyes and ears had not deceived him, the next installment of “The Dismal Science” would be devoted to it.

Why there was a tinge of uncharacteristic excitement in Brockway’s voice will become apparent when you read “What Greenspan Really Told Congress” (page l3). Our own actual purpose here is to alert you to the publication in October of Economists Can Be Bad for Your Health, his third book since starting his second career in these pages almost 14 years ago.

His first career, in publishing, ran some 46 years. Following graduation in 1936 from Williams College and (jobs being scarce) a year in graduate school at Yale on a fellowship, Brockway went to work for McGraw Hill in 1941 he joined W.W. Norton, where before long his editorial talents and his business acumen put him on the up escalator. By 1958 he was named president, and in 1976 he assumed the chairmanship of the now employee-owned company. Along the way, he fashioned Norton into the major independent publisher it is today.

When rampaging Reagan-era inflation and 21 per cent loan rates threatened to undermine the house he built, bankers became Brockway’s bête noire and people-friendly economics his preoccupation. Already an occasional contributor to the NL on foreign policy matters, he did several pieces for us in 1981 on his new subject. Then he proposed the column that began running in alternate issues the next January, two years prior to his retirement. His relaxed style, quiet wit and devastating debunking of mainstream wisdom soon attracted a wide audience. Even those who were infuriated by his central thesis – that “economics is a branch of ethics, not of natural science” – could not resist reading him. At a recent conference Brockway met Martin Feldstein, who was a member of Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers. “I always read you,” confessed Feldstein, “but you’re all wrong.”

Brockway’s first two books, published by Harper, were Economics: What Went Wrong and Why and Some Things to Do About It (1985) and The End of Economic Man (1991). The latter was brought out in paperback by Norton, which is about to issue a third revised edition. As for Economists Can Be Bad for Your Health, also from Norton, we neglected to mention that it is a selection of his NL columns. Previewing it, Jeff Faux, president of the Economic Policy Institute, wrote: “George Brockway is a national treasure. His new book picks apart foolish economic dogma with deft application of common sense in simple English. He entertains us and inspires us to think for ourselves. May he write forever.”

Amen.

OUR COVER drawing of Alan Greenspan is by Mwaura Kirore.

Originally published February 11, 1985

Between Issues

A TOAST to mark the appearance of his Economics: What: Went Wrong and Why and Some Things to Do About It began our very pleasant lunch the other day with George P. Brockway. Published by Harper & Row under the Cornelia and Michael Bessie imprint, the book grew out of, and to a large extent expands upon “The Dismal Science,” the popular alternate-

issue column Brockway started writing for us in January 1982. Pleased as we indeed are about that genesis, it also poses a problem. And it is a measure of this man-who in his book insists “economics is … a branch of ethics” – that we could engage him in a detached discussion of our views on the impropriety of reviewing works essentially derived from the pages of the magazine.

We would be remiss, however, if we therefore did not commend to your attention what Robert Heilbroner, in an advance comment on Economics, has described as “marvelously well written, a joy to read,” as well as “full of original and perceptive observations.” Brockway deftly draws on his better than 40 years as salesman, editor, president, and chairman of the board at W. W. Norton and Company before his retirement in December 1983 to deflate many of the assumptions commonly held by professional economists. Most significant, though, is the people-oriented philosophy that informs his thinking, which may be gleaned from the following in his opening chapter:

” .. .In the early 1980s, when upwards of 14 million men and women in the United States were unemployed, and there was much debate about whether we were in a recession or a depression, and how to end whatever it was, public attention was lavished on statistics supposed to indicate when recovery was finally under way. Among the ‘indicators,’ the rate of unemployment was understandably included. But this was, curiously, a’ lagging’ indicator. That is to say, standard economics held that something entitled to be called a recovery could be achieved leaving 6 or 8 or 10 per cent of our fellow citizens unemployed.

“An economics that is thus willing to disregard several million people will clearly differ in substantial ways from an economics that holds that full and just employment of men and women is the economic problem, and that a business recovery may be a means to that end, but certainly is not an end in itself.[1]

Guided by the same spirit, Brockway proceeds to offer several other ends, and the means for attaining them. Perhaps the most original dominates a chapter called “Property,”

bearing the subtitle “The Labor Theory of Right” – presented, as it happens (albeit in far too compressed fashion), in his column beginning on page 11.

Parting after lunch, we asked the former publisher turned author what he would be doing now. He responded, of course, that he had already started on a second book.

OUR COVERdrawing of AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland is by Claudia Fouse.

            The New Leader


[1] Editor’s emPHAsis

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